The future belongs to employee-powered brands

The future belongs to employee-powered brands

There is a wealth of research that shows how an engaged workforce has a positive impact on productivity, health, home-life and, ultimately, the bottom line of the company they work for.

Yet for many employers, an engaged workforce remains an aspiration they feel is out of reach. So, with the technology and tools available that allow us to understand employees like never before, what should we be doing to ensure all brands are employee-powered?

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This was the subject of our panel discussion at the Holmes Report’s In2 Innovation Summit attended by Ben Jackson, MD of Employee Engagement at MSL UK, Vickie Sheriff, Director of Communications at Imperial College London, Alun Metford, Head of Global Internal Communications & Operations, IT and Enabling Units Communications at AstraZeneca, Abhinav Kumar, Chief Communications and Marketing officer, Global Markets, Tata Consultancy Services and moderated by Maya Pawinska Sims, Associate Editor, The Holmes Report.

The panellists all agreed with the principle that there are four key tenets that enable successful employee engagement:

1. Listen to what your employees are saying

2. Understand who your employees are and what motivates them

3. Trust what your employees are telling you

4. Be authentic in all types of engagement

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New technologies have created a fundamental shift in employee engagement, allowing employers to listen to and understand employees like never before.  Communication can take place at any time, across multiple formats and channels, while feedback can be quickly analysed and plans adjusted accordingly.  Audiences can now be segmented to ensure that the engagement is relevant to the individual, and language is no longer a barrier. This allows employers to harness the collective brainpower of everyone in their organisation. 

As Abhinav Kumar explained, this is particularly important in service industries where, if you remove the brand value of the company, the entire value of the company then lies with the employees.  Harnessing this appropriately can have a dramatic impact. Dunbars number suggests that an individual can maintain stable social relationships with 150 people so, in an organisation like Tata Consultancy Services which employs 424,000 employees, if each employee is sharing positive messages about their employer, they are potentially reaching 63.6 million individuals globally.

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The opportunity presented by successful employee engagement is clear, but what does success look like in practice? 

Alun Metford shared his experience at AstraZeneca where employees were asked to get involved in developing a new global company strategy.  Following a time of financial downturn, ideation events were held to look at the challenges and opportunities that the company faced, bringing every part of the business together to co-create change. This approach played an important role in turning the business around but also meant the need to drive engagement became redundant as employees were proud to have been a part of the process. The focus is now on continuing the engagement, with several of the employees suggested projects being funded in order to bring them to life.

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The use of available technologies including AI was critical to the success of this programme but, as Vickie Sheriff explained, it isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution and both the channel and format need to be adapted to the individual – particularly when it comes to senior leaders.  It would also be a mistake to dismiss the importance of face-to-face communication, which is arguably among the most authentic forms of engagement. Ultimately, authenticity is the key to success and it is a challenge to all those with a communications role and their agencies to address what Metford sees as a lack of understanding when it comes to an authentic tone of voice. 

Employee engagement is still blighted by ‘corporate speak’ and social media posts that are crafted by teams for leaders to deliver.  It’s time we all trust the voice of the employee – at every level and in every role – and see it as an opportunity to listen, understand and engage, rather than a risk to be mitigated.

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